Red Light Therapy And Cognitive PerformanceJun 23, 2019
This is a guest post by Bart Wolbers. Bart finished degrees in Physical Therapy (B), Philosophy (BA and MA), Philosophy of Science and Technology (MS - Cum Laude), and Clinical Health Science (MS), and helps thousands of people take charge of their own health with his company Nature Builds Health.
Everyone likes increased performance...
Maybe you prefer taking a handful of nootropics (brain performance supplements) before that important presentation.
Or perhaps you’re blocking blue light at nighttime so that you’re sleeping better.
Alternatively, you might use cold showers to feel more awake in the morning. And if you’re really kick ass you’re going to combine all these strategies.
What you might not know, however, is that red light therapy can also improve the performance of your brain. How? Red light therapy uses LED panels to give your body a massive amount of red and infrared light.
So let’s dig deeper into that subject:
Red Light Therapy And Cognitive Performance: Enhanced Memory, Executive Function, And Learning Ability.
During the last few years, the use of sunlight for health improvement has made a massive comeback.
But you know what?
Many people are not in a position to spend 10+ hours a day in the sun or shade. Most people have a full-time job that makes getting enough sunlight exposure difficult.
Red light therapy is a partial solution in that case. Don’t get me wrong though, nothing replaces the health benefits of sunlight. And yet, red light therapy can save you from some of the harm of not getting enough sunlight in your life.
So in that case, you get a red light therapy panel and improve your health:
(PICTURED: The Firewave Red and Infrared Light Therapy Machine from EMR)
Red light therapy has proven benefits for many areas of your health, such as skin condition (6), countering pain (7), improving workout performance while lowering fatigue (8; 9), lowering risk of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and diabetes (10; 11; 12), giving you more energy (13), enhanced oral health (14), and more.
Of course, I’ll specifically treat the topic of cognitive performance in this blog post.
Let’s start with the basics:
How Red Light Therapy Works
For millions of years, the sun was the primal source of light exposure for modern humans.
Today human beings spend more than 90% of their time indoors (14). Indoors, artificial light is the prime light source.
Exposure to artificial light is totally unnatural. You see, sunlight that reaches the Earth’s atmosphere has a balanced composition of 1) ultraviolet; 2) visible and 3) infrared light.
Visible light can be divided into all colors of the rainbow, such as blue, green, yellow, and red. Ultraviolet light, moreover, is what can give you a sunburn, and infrared light makes sunlight feel hot.
Artificial light is that modern LED and fluorescent bulbs mostly emit visible light that is skewed towards the blue part of the spectrum. For that reason, you’re getting far too much blue light exposure while not getting the benefits of ultraviolet and infrared light.
Now you’re beginning to see the magic of red light therapy: with a panel, you’re able to supplement the amount of red and infrared light that enters your body.
That’s right: Of all the light types, red and infrared literally penetrates into your body and can thereby affect your cells and the water in your body. (15).
(If you’d like to learn more about how blue light and indoor environments negatively affect your health, consider Bobby’s Blue Light Diet course)
And you know what?
If you’re not getting lots of sunlight exposure throughout the day, I highly recommend you supplement your red and infrared light “intake” with red light therapy.
If not, your brain won’t perform optimally.
So let’s dig into that topic.
I’ll first treat the topic of using red light therapy to recover cognitive performance (for if you’ve got a brain injury, for example). I’ll then talk about enhancing brain capacity in healthy people.
Brain Conditions And Red Light Therapy
Many brain conditions exist, but I’m only going to treat three of them: Traumatic Brain Injury strokes, and Alzheimer’s disease.
The reason for that choice is that these are three of the most common causes of brain problems in the modern world.
Traumatic Brain Injury
Before I dig into the topic of traumatic brain injury, let’s consider one specific advantage that red light therapy confers upon brain health and performance: improved oxygenation and circulation after an injury (18; 19).
Traumatic brain injury - entailing physical damage to the head due to an outside force - is, of course, the pinnacle of the definition of an injury.
Animal studies show an increase in functioning after a traumatic brain injury (20).
In human brains too, red light therapy significantly improves memory, attention, and mood after a traumatic brain injury (21)
BDNF, a compound that regulates the creation of new brain cells as well as connections between brain cells, is also upregulated with red light therapy (22).
And there’s more proof that red light therapy helps your brain stay healthy:
In a stroke, a part or the whole of your brain loses supply to oxygenated blood. A blockage of the arteries that move from your chest to your brain is the most common reason for a stroke.
Disability and even death are frequent side-effects of strokes. And even if you do survive, brain function will be impaired, which leads to many complications such as an altered personality, poor cognitive function, and an inability to move well.
In animal studies, red light therapy has been shown to increase recovery times during a stroke (16). For the best results, red light therapy needs to be applied within several hours after the stroke.
The end result is that brain performance and overall functioning of the nervous system significantly improves over time, compared to if no red light therapy were applied (17). Specifically, the brain increases the number of neurons - brain cells - which then lead to less of a decrease in brain capacity.
Let’s move on to the last instance:
Alzheimer’s is a complex disease: For a long time, it was believed that certain plaques such as “beta-amyloid” or “tau” proteins were the direct cause of the disease, but current evidence also supports alternative explanations such as a decrease in circulation (23)
Red light therapy does improve circulation in the brain, as well as metabolism (24).
Alzheimer’s is paired with progressive degeneration of brain cells, specifically their death. Red light therapy can counter that process both safely and effectively (25).
Even if you apply red and infrared light through your nose - for which specialized devices can be bought nowadays - you’ll be getting quite a few benefits (26). Daytime function, sleep quality, and anxiety improves, for example.
One more benefit?
In all three conditions listed above, red light therapy increases the number of antioxidants in your body, lowers inflammation, and protects brain cells (22).
Literally hundreds of millions if not a billion people can benefit from red light therapy to keep their brains healthy.
Of course, you may be thinking: “I’m healthy, I don’t have dementia or traumatic brain injury”. Sure, let’s therefore consider the effects of this intervention in healthy people:
Red Light Therapy And Cognitive Performance
A hack to get smarter?
I’ll go over a few independent domains when considering the effects of red light therapy:
- Executive function
- Learning ability
One reason your brain simply performs better with red light therapy is because red and infrared light stimulate one step of the process by which your mitochondria create energy: cytochrome c oxidase (23).
Let’s break that complicated statement down:
Mitochondria are the energy-producing factories in your cells. Without energy, you’d die immediately as every bodily process is dependent on energy.
One specific step of that process of energy creation can function on light: cytochrome c oxidase.
When that light is shone on the prefrontal cortex - the brain area behind your forehead - memory improves (23). My hypothesis for that finding is that even people who are healthy today do not get sufficient light exposure into their lives and are leaving potential gains on the table.
The better your memory works, especially short-term memory, the better your cognitive performance becomes. Red light therapy is thus the shortcut you’ve been waiting for…
And there’s more:
If you’re not feeling well your brain is not performing as well as it could. If you’re depressed, for example, brain function takes a hit and your working memory or ability for abstract thinking decreases (24; 25).
Fortunately, red light therapy can improve your mood even if you’re already a healthy person (23).
With red light therapy exposure, the “processing speed” of your brain increases (23; 24; 28). Processing speed is a basic measurement of how quickly your brain function, and is one of the best indicators of having a high IQ.
Processing speed, is in fact, one of the main executive functions. Working memory, abstract reasoning, and the ability to control your impulses are other executive functions.
The same is true for working memory (26).
Important areas involved with executive function, such as the prefrontal cortex I’ve talked about before, increase their blood flow with red light therapy (25). Other mechanisms may exist as well.
And yes, most of these studies show that you’ll literally make fewer errors during mental tasks. So get that red light therapy into that office or yours, or plan a session during your early morning while you’re having breakfast.
Some (but not all) types of learning are enhanced with red light therapy (27). The result is that you’re more easily be able to learn from past mistakes and that your ability to cram information into your long-term memory is enhanced.
The ability to learn new information generally goes down as you age. People who are 20 years old today and didn’t grow up with Bitcoin can still learn how that process works. People who are 80 generally have a much harder time keeping up with such new developments.
And yet, even if you’re 20 and in your prime, wouldn’t you want an advantage over your peers?
I certainly would…
So let’s consider the bottom line:
Conclusion: Red Light Therapy - Brain Performance Revolution!
In today’s world, cognitive performance is increasingly rewarded while physical labor has been going down in value for decades.
That trend will only continue…
Working construction, or in a factory, or low level-agricultural jobs are both physical in nature as well as low-paying.
Jobs that require high-level thinking skills, such as management positions, working in Artificial Intelligence, or with blockchain, are very highly rewarded.
You’re thus going to need any edge you can get in that world - and red light therapy is the solution.
Grab a red light therapy device. These devices are nearly indestructible and will improve your life for years to come.
Prices of these devices have dramatically come down the last few years. You can already get a high quality 200 + Watt device for just over $200 bucks, and a 1,000 Watt behemoth for around $1,000.
Just think about how much more money you’ll save over your lifetime with a better performing brain. $50,000? $500,000?
For Christ’ sake, don’t sell yourself short. You’ll feel better, think better, and do better.
Want to read more of my works? Check out my extensive guides on red light therapy, using cold therapy to optimize your sunlight sessions, and using sunlight or red light to build your dopamine levels.
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